Two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Tim Sylvia parted ways with the UFC in March 2008. In the five years since, his fists have carried him all over the globe, from Birmingham, Ala., Worcester, Mass., and Minneapolis to Kansas City, Kan., Lewiston, Maine, and Tokyo.
Sylvia will make his second appearance under the One Fighting Championship banner when he faces American Kickboxing Academy export Tony Johnson at One FC 9 “Rise to Power” on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines. The entire undercard will stream live and free of charge to Sherdog.com.
Now 37, Sylvia became a household MMA name in the UFC. In just his second bout with the promotion, he captured the heavyweight crown with a first-round technical knockout against Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41. He made one successful defense, only to be stripped of the title after testing positive for a banned substance. Sylvia went 5-2 over his next seven outings, losing only to Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski. A little more than a year after his submission defeat to Arlovski, he was awarded a rematch with the Belarusian. Sylvia stopped Arlovski on first-round punches at UFC 59, becoming the heavyweight champion for a second time. Wins over Arlovski and Jeff Monson followed before Sylvia surrendered the title to Randy Couture in one of the sport’s most celebrated upsets.
Sylvia was one of the few fighters to have left the UFC voluntarily. After a submission loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 81, he negotiated an early release from his contract, reportedly for a variety of reasons: pay, a desire to fight more often and greater career flexibility. He was also determined to test his skills against Russian great Fedor Emelianenko, and in July 2008, Affliction provided him with the opportunity. Emelianenko submitted him in 36 seconds.
“At the time, it was a great decision for me to leave, but when Affliction folded up and Adrenaline [MMA] stopped doing big shows, things didn’t work out for me,” Sylvia told Sherdog.com. “If I had it to do all over, I probably would have stayed in the UFC.”
Sylvia’s roots in martial arts can be traced to his childhood, when he dabbled in karate, and extend into high school, where he competed in wrestling. Later, while playing semi-pro football, he met fellow Maine native Marcus Davis, forever altering his life.
“Marcus convinced me to pursue combat sports, so I began to do a bit of boxing and grappling,” Sylvia said. “I got into my first bout after a year of training [and] did it for fun.”
While Sylvia started with Davis, he eventually joined forces with Pat Miletich at his famed Miletich Fighting Systems camp, where he enjoyed his greatest success. Sylvia recently dropped anchor at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. Having earned his purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2011, he has begun pursuit of his brown belt under Pedro Silveira and Rodrigo Uzeda.
“I have trained at several gyms,” he said, “but I found a new home at American Top Team.”
Sylvia made his first appearance with the Singapore-based One FC promotion in August in a fourth matchup against Arlovski. However, when “The Pit Bull” delivered an illegal soccer kick to a downed Sylvia, the bout was stopped and ruled a no-contest.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to fight overseas, so when One FC asked us [to fight], I was all for it,” Sylvia said. “I love the rules and [I] am very happy with them. They treat the fighters great and put on a great show.”
In his latest outing for One FC, Sylvia will confront the promising Johnson. Although he will enter the cage with an enormous experience advantage, Sylvia does not plan to underestimate his once-beaten opponent. Johnson already has a Bellator MMA win under his belt, and his lone defeat came by first-round submission to the world-ranked Daniel Cormier.
“Tony is tough, but I think I just need to keep the fight on the feet and look for the KO,” said Sylvia, who is looking to rebound from his decision loss to 2008 Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii on New Year’s Eve. “I like to just stay relaxed and take things a step at a time; just stay calm and focused.”
Having secured more than half (20) of his 31 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout, Sylvia sounds confident entering his showdown with Johnson.
“When I make it past him,” he said, “I am just looking to sign with One FC again.”
Outside of MMA, Sylvia makes time for his family and favorite pastimes.
“I am a huge outdoors person,” he said. “I have my own farm and a 2-year-old boy, so we go down there a lot, and I also mud race for a hobby.”